NEW DELHI — A bill seeking to criminalize instant triple talaq among Muslims and providing for a three-year jail term was cleared by the Union Cabinet Dec. 15, which the government said was aimed at protecting the dignity and security of women in the community.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 got the cabinet nod at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had spoken about the issue during the campaign of the recently-concluded Gujarat Assembly elections.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad refused to give details of the bill at a media briefing on the grounds that Parliament was in session. He merely said many state governments, to which the draft of the bill was sent, had supported the bill.
According to the draft bill sent out to states earlier this month, it was proposed that triple talaq be made a cognizable and non-bailable offense that would earn a jail term of three years. The draft law was prepared in the backdrop of the Aug. 22 Supreme Court verdict that struck down the practice of "instant divorce" triple talaq, making it illegal.
However, it is understood that the bill provides for a three-year imprisonment and fine to a Muslim man if he resorts to the practice of instant divorce, which a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had held as "unconstitutional and arbitrary." The court had also held that triple talaq was not integral to Islam.
The bill, while making instant divorce a cognizable and non-bailable offense, also seeks to give affected women right to seek maintenance. This is expected to be introduced during the Winter Session of Parliament that commenced Dec. 15.
Declining to go into the details of the measure, Prasad said it was designed to shield the helpless victims of triple talaq and to give them dignity and security.
"Cabinet has taken historic decisions today which will have a long-term impact in the growth of the country... because Parliament session is on, I cannot give details of the bill," he said.
"We approved The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which is to protect victims of Triple Talaq," he added.
The Cabinet clearance was criticized by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board as a direct attack on the religious freedom of the Muslim community, while women activists sought collective support from political parties in converting the bill into law.
Opposing the bill, AIMPLB member Maulana Khalid Rashid said: "As far as the compensation for the rehabilitation of the women is concerned, they are already being given by the Muslim community. So, the triple talaq bill, we consider as a direct interference in the religious matters of the largest community. It is an attack on religious freedom..."
"Women are not being tortured in the name of triple talaq. Muslim women have said they do not want change in the personal law including the law of triple talaq. If certain people are misusing certain laws it doesn't mean that you will completely finish that law. It is part of our 'sharia.' The government should at least have consulted Muslim organizations before making any such law," he said.
Activist Zakir Soman said the Muslim Personal Law Board and the Muslim community are not taking proper care of triple talaq victims, and such women should be given justice as per law.
"If the community and the Personal Law Board was doing enough why would be the women (triple talaq victims) be coming to women's organization?" asked Soman.
"The community is indulging in argument but that doesn't mean we will give up our constitutional and legal entitlement. We are all citizens in a democracy and living in the 21st century. We are entitled, educated and empowered, and we want justice as per the law of the land...So, this kind of Personal Law Board argument for any kind of reform is not accepted," the activist said.
According to Soman, they have written letters to Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, for their collective support in converting the triple talaq bill into when it is tabled in the Winter Session of Parliament for discussion.
"Through the letter, we requested the leaders to come together in order to solve the issue. It is not the matter of BJP, Congress or any other political parties. It is the responsibility of political parties, its representatives and all the women of this country," she said.
Another female activist Hina Zaheer said: "According to the Quran, there is no provision for instant talaq... So, it should not be the matter of ego for the Muslim Personal Law Board. The board should have solved it by themselves. They haven't solved it, that is why lot of politics is being done over the issue."